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Director weekly highlights 20 May

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 20 May 2022

As you know, we skipped last week’s mailout because a lot of our team were at the U. Melbourne node for our executive meeting there, and that needed all hands on deck. One of the big agenda items was a final thrashing out of the program for the End of Centre Event in Canberra on September 28, 29 and 30. More details coming soon. We were also treated to a dazzling Melbourne node showcase by our hosts — see link — with presentations by Debbie Loakes on voice quality in Australian English; Hywel Stoakes on automatic voice recognition in the languages of Efate (Vanuatu); Sophie Lewinkamp with an update on the Nyingarn project (which makes manuscript sources for Australian languages, such as the Daisy Bates records, available as searchable and reusable text documents); Ruth Singer with an overview of the Spinning a Better Yarn initiative; a discussion of professional development for Aboriginal language educators by Bill Forshaw; a presentation of negative verbs in Eastern Nilotic by Jonathan Moodie; a workout for our ears listening to all the changes that young Pitjantjatjara speakers are making to their language by Sasha Willmoth (amazing changes to the phonotactics of the language); and an ambitious worldwide survey by John Mansfield at how far we can detect incipient differences between languages in the differences found between dialects.  

Read on for a rich palette of activities, interviews, talks and publications this week, from discussions of slang in Australia’s Linguistics in the Pub capital (Melbourne); to Clint Bracknell’s discussion of issues in Aboriginal Song language in the Spinning a Better Yarn series; to computational talks and posters by Kathrin Kaiser, Gulwanyang Moran and Ben Foley; and Felicity Meakins’ presentation to CalTech of her ‘sixth sense’ project (can we detect a sense of magnetic perception in at least some Indigenous Australian populations? Time to look).   

Among the ten new fascinating publications out, I’d like to single one out for special importance — a book edited by long-term CoEDL friends Deborah Hill (who participated in our workshop in Honiara 3 years back) and Felix Ameka, on Languages, Linguistics and Development Practices. Convincing our development and economic colleagues that their projects will only work if they can communicate according to local norms has been a subtle underground stream for many years. My personal fave is Paul Sillitoe’smasterful exposition of how interaction between evidentiality, engagement and tense in the Wola language needs to be deployed if sceptical agriculturalists in the PNG highlands are to be convinced by outsider didiman (agriculture officers). But the Hill & Ameka volume is, to my knowledge, the first book-length collection of articles on this topic, and as we face the relentless need to justify what we do against methods which privilege abstract economic modelling over actual cultural grounding, it’s the sort of pool we need to fish into for convincing and wide-ranging examples. 

Tomorrow many of our community will be voting in Australia’s Federal Election. But not everyone — we count so many people who are here on various visiting visas, and many others living in countries of the Pacific, for example. Who gets voted in on Saturday, and the policies they bring in (or lack the courage or foresight to adopt), will have direct results far beyond Australia’s shores, from sea-level rises submerging Pacific Island nations to impacts on refugees. Beyond that are all the impacts on the young and on future generations to come. So, as you cast your vote, if you are among those fortunate CoEDLers who have one, please show the same generosity, far-sightedness and awareness of our global connectedness that is so much a part of our community, as you weigh up the consequences of who to vote for. 


Nick Evans


1Sillitoe, P. (2010). Trust in development: some implications of knowing in indigenous knowledge. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.), 16, 12–30. 


CoEDL Spotlight: Laurence Bruggeman 

Introduced by CoEDL CI Anne Cutler

Laurence Bruggeman currently holds a CoEDL postdoc position. Before every postdoc position there must of course be a doc position; hers was at MARCS, where she completed a PhD in 2016. And before any doctorate there is undergrad study; hers took place at the university in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, where she specialised in language, speech and computer science (for a bachelor’s degree) and then language and speech technology (for a master’s). That alone might have had CoEDL hunting her, but in fact it was an Aussie husband, with assistance from an Aussie PhD advisor, who managed to convince her that Australia was at least as good a place to live as the Netherlands (NB it is notoriously difficult to persuade Dutch persons that there might be any better place to live than the Netherlands, so we didn’t go that far).  


When CoEDL was established I was about two years into my PhD at the MARCS Institute (WSU). I remember being a bit envious of the CoEDL PhD students, thinking it was a shame CoEDL hadn't been around when I started. So, when in 2018, after a few years as a postdoc at Macquarie University, I was offered the chance to join CoEDL as a postdoc I jumped at the opportunity. And I haven’t been disappointed! 

I have enjoyed participating in all that CoEDL has had to offer, especially the summer schools, CoEDL Fests and the Learning/Processing workshop (with its terrific speed dating event!), which inspired new ideas and formed the basis for collaborations across nodes and programs. As a direct result of the speed dating, for instance, Debbie Loakes, Anne Cutler and I joined forces to study whether subtle pronunciation differences between Melbourne and Sydney English affect listeners’ speech processing. Data collection is still ongoing, so stay tuned to find out what we’ll discover.  

Unfortunately, one of my most interesting projects — a collaboration with Anne Cutler, Rachel Nordlinger and Evan Kidd to investigate spoken-word recognition in Murrinhpatha using eye-tracking — has so far been thwarted by the pandemic. Getting into the Northern Territory turned out to be pretty challenging, with our team in alternating lockdowns. But things are looking up and we’re hopeful that we can finally collect some data this year before CoEDL wraps up! 

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University